Obama: Erase injustice and inequality

Published: Wednesday | December 11, 2013 Comments 0
Nelson Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, lowers her head as she listens to speakers during the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, yesterday. - AP
Nelson Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, lowers her head as she listens to speakers during the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, yesterday. - AP

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP):

United States President Barack Obama implored thousands gathered in a cold, rainy stadium and millions watching around the world yesterday to carry forward Nelson Mandela's mission of erasing injustice and inequality.

In a speech that received thunderous applause at the FNB stadium and a standing ovation, Obama called on people to apply the lessons of Mandela, who emerged from 27 years in prison under a racist regime, embraced his enemies when he finally walked to freedom, and ushered in a new era of forgiveness and reconciliation in South Africa.

"We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace," said Obama, who, like Mandela, became the first black president of his country. Obama said that when he was a student, Mandela "woke me up to my responsibilities to others, and to myself, and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today".

Addressing the memorial service for Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, Obama pointed out that "around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love."

Among the nearly 100 heads of state and government were some from countries like Cuba that don't hold fully democratic elections. On the way to the podium, Obama shook hands with Cuban President Ral Castro, undersocing a recent warming of relations between Cuba and the US.

In contrast to the wild applause given to Obama, South African President Jacob Zuma was booed. Many South Africans are unhappy with Zuma because of state corruption scandals, though his ruling African National Congress, once led by Mandela, remains the front-runner ahead of elections next year.

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